LAKEWOOD, Wash. (December 15, 2019) — The 2019 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships crowned six champions on the final day of spectacular racing in Lakewood, Wash. The weeklong competitions decided 40 national champions, with nearly 1,400 athletes taking to the start line in the South Puget Sound area of Washington.
Fort Steilacoom Park was veiled in a quiet fog Sunday as sunshine tried to cast daylight on the final cold day of racing. The sun did peak through low clouds throughout the day keeping showers at bay. The challenging course at Fort Steilacoom Park delivered well-rounded champions, who were able to minimize mistakes and stay smooth on the steep uphills and technical descents.
Andrew Strohmeyer (Mount Airy, Md.; CX Hairs Devo: Trek Bikes) took advantage of his technical skills to pull away from the 70-rider field and win the Junior Men 17-18 event. Strohmeyer, the reigning Junior Men's Pan American Cyclocross Champion, crossed the line in 38:53. He was 9 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Jared Scott (Boulder, Colo.; Boulder Junior Cycling). Magnus Sheffield (Pittsford, N.Y.; Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) was third, 33 seconds back.
“The last two laps, I knew that I was riding the descents better so I had to go first into the descents and I was able to do that,” Strohmeyer said of his attack to drop the other two riders from the lead group. “I got a gap coming out of them and I knew that was the move, so I just had to go and make it stick.”
A runner-up last year in the Junior Women 17-18 division, Madigan Munro (Boulder, Colo.; Boulder Junior Cycling) dominated this year from wire to wire for the title. Also the reigning Junior Women's Pan American Cyclocross Champion, Munro completed the course in a winning time of 44:00. A little over three minutes later the silver was taken by Michaela Thompson (Niwot, Colo,; Boulder Junior Cycling). Lizzy Gunsalus (Dudley, Mass.; Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com), the 15-16 champion at the 2018 Cyclocross Nationals in Reno, Nev., scored the bronze.
“It was a really fun race,” said Munro, who chose to race cautiously through the Western Construction sandpit. “I think I could have ridden it most of the times, but it was more efficient to run. I wanted to focus on being smooth the whole race and not taking too many chances to I just ran it.”
Winner in the 17-18 division in 2018, Katie Clouse (Park City, Utah; Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) crushed the Women U23 division to claim her third Stars-and-Stripes of the week. Clouse also won the Women Collegiate Varsity and the Collegiate 4×4 Team Relay on Friday.
Hannah Arensman (Brevard, N.C.; JA King Cyclocross), winner of the Women Collegiate Club title, finished second, 2:30 down. Taking third was Shannon Mallory (Bellingham, Wash.; NWCX Project).
“This course has definitely been one of my favorites,” said Clouse, who now has 30 national championship titles across multiple disciplines. “It's an awesome course, it's really challenging. There's not a lot of rest, there's a perfect amount of running and power. It's great.”
Halfway through the U23 Men contest, Eric Brunner (Boulder, Colo.; Blue Stages Racing) attacked his competitors to claim his second Stars-and-Stripes jersey of the week. Brunner, winner of the Men Collegiate Club title, crossed the line solo in 54:45. Caleb Swartz (Madison, Wisc.; Linear Sport RT/Trek), winner of the Men Collegiate Varsity title, took silver, 44 seconds back. Scott Funston (Maple Valley, Wash.; The Hold Fast Project) took bronze, 1:17 behind Brunner.
“I'm just beyond words right now, this is definitely one of the best days of my life,” said Brunner, who finished third in 2018. “I was going all out on the last lap, but at the same time I just had to focus. I knew that I had a big gap so I decided to ride smooth and bring it into the line.”
“I got a bronze medal at home, it was amazing,” added Funston, who with his father and other local cyclists helped build the course this past summer. “(It was) a wall of noise around the whole course, the run ups, the drops. The crowd just carries you.”
Along with the crowds, the sun came out in force for the final two races of the day, the Elite Women and Elite Men events. Both races featured two young racers claiming their first Elite titles.
Racing her first season in the Elite category, Clara Honsinger (Corvallis, Ore.; Team S&M CX Sellwood Cycle Repair) took control halfway in the five-lap race to win the Elite Women title. Honsinger, last year's U23 champion, rode solo across the line in 50:16 to capture the Stars-and-Stripes jersey.
“I don't think I've even come to recognize it yet,” said Honsinger, who put her hands on her head in disbelief when she crossed the finish line. “The entire race I was like ‘I have to hold it smooth.' Even coming down the finishing stretch, giving high fives. [I was thinking] I just need to make it to this line and savor it.”
Two laps into the race, Honsinger joined Rebecca Fahringer (Concord, N.H.; Kona Maxxis Shimano) at the front of the shattered 58-rider field to establish a small gap to 15-time Elite Women national champion Katie Compton (Colorado Springs, Colo.; KFC Racing p/b Trek/Knight). A lap later, Honsinger was solo off the front, staying focused on the task at hand and getting energy from the cheering fans.
“Falling through that tunnel and hearing my name from everyone is huge, it's inspiring to ride on,” Honsinger said of the enthusiastic crowds.
Fahringer, fourth in 2018, continued to chase solo, but was not able to close the gap. She crossed the line 29 seconds later for second place. With fans cheering on her amazing fifteen titles, Compton took third, 1:20 behind the winner.
“It's just a progression of cyclocross. It's not a changing of the guards or anything, we're all still out here racing, it's just a little switch from what it's been for the past few years,” Honsinger added.
After a very fast start, Gage Hecht (Parker, Colo.; Donnelly Aevolo) went immediately to the front of the 53-rider elite men's field and put the hammer down. Hecht rode a strong, smooth race to win the national crown in a time of 1:00:32.
“This is something that I've dreamed about since I was 10 years old. Racing here, it's truly amazing, it's really exciting,” said 21-year old Hecht, who has chosen to race the Elite category for the past two years.
After one lap, Hecht and Kerry Werner (Advance, N.C.; Kona Maxxis Shimano) had pulled away from a chasing duo of defending champion Stephen Hyde (Easthampton, Mass.; Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) and Curtis White (Delanson, N.Y.; Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com).
“That lap I was just trying to hold onto things. I blew through that tape because there were some leaves that covered the rut, that freaked me out a little bit and I shot into the spectators,” Hecht said of his crash on the second lap. “And then to see Kerry flip over his bike on the right side of me, I felt terrible, I hate seeing that happen. It messed with my head for a lap, but I finally got back into the swing of things about a lap later.”
Back in full control, Hecht re-established his lead to White and Hyde for the rest of the seven-lap race. White crossed the line 17 seconds later for second place and Hyde took third, six seconds later. After his crash, Werner fell back to the second chase group, and ultimately finished fourth.
Hecht enjoyed the amazing atmosphere out on the course, “It was deafening,” he said. “It was amazing. It's something that is special to national championships that you don't get in every race. It was so cool. I was loving that, there's so much energy up there.”